This new Star Trek movie. It’s not real. I mean it’s not the real Star Trek. You see, my generation (the boomers if you need to know) owns Star Trek. We saw it first. We saved it from cancellation. And we kept it alive for 79 episodes and six films. So make no mistake. We own it. It’s encrypted with our generational genes. And we never gave it away. We like it the way it is. Don’t even think about doing a tribute movie. We’re the ones who preserved Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and the crew in amber. And so they cannot be re-imagined, re-invented, re-vivified, or re-interpreted. They can only be rerun.
If you accept the above, then it represents a formidable barrier for any moviemaker to overcome. J.J. Abrams appears to have done it. He gave us a head fake (he said he’s a fan) then backed-up one screen generation in order to appeal to the Gen-X and â€“Ys that he hoped would fill the theatre. As they say in our national sport, he found a shooting lane and scored. Admittedly not without some awkwardness but in spirit and tone he has put us owners on notice. He has found more creative juice within the original idea and it informs almost every scene we see.
At its best, this Star Trek is all about its characters. Its actors and script find moments of magic where they evoke the original character’s sensibilities and relationships but do it with freshness and conviction. It is most apparent in the early exchanges between Bones and Kirk. You know you’ve enjoyed the moment before but you’re feeling it like the first time. It is not plagiarism masquerading as tribute. It is a creative idea that continues to spin off enchantment.
The plot is nothing special â€“ default space-opera. A super nova destroys Romulus and turns the Romulan Nero into a rogue raider bent on revenge (pirates anyone?). Since Spock Prime (the original) had failed to stop the destruction of Romulus, Nero goes after him and the Vulcan planet. Throw in some red matter to seed black holes, some time travel to weasel the audience into going along with the plot, and the new buddies Kirk and Spock working out their joint karma while stopping Nero and you have an enjoyable action film where characters count. (Bonus feature: no one says â€œGo go go!â€ in spite of some obvious opportunities. I like this future.)
The ambience is good â€“ not Blade Runner level â€“ but it’s easy to feel you are inhabiting the future. The Enterprise bridge looks purposeful and optimistic. If you’re a Romulan however, your order to terminate all interior designers has worked. Their death ship is a morass of evilly lit construction sites, underground tunnels, and half-submerged torture chambers. Their planet-killer is an ingenious space drill with a stratospheric platform that provides a setting for an on-the-edge action sequence that is breathtaking. Even the gestation of the black hole has some quantum moments for collider fans everywhere.
The bad notes are minor and quite ignorable. Kirk’s tendency to womanize is overplayed in the early scenes and pretty much disappears as the movie progresses. Spock on the other hand breaks half a dozen rules in the Federation manual (let alone the Star Trek ethos). Shock value I suppose but it goes nowhere and doesn’t really add to the movie. The new cast performs fairly well. Chris Pine as Kirk seems physically miscast but then has his moments with Bones and Spock. Zach Quinto looks and acts like a young Spock seeking his destiny. Most of the supporting characters participate adequately although Simon Pegg as Scotty seems a bit contrived.
What really makes the movie work is J.J. Abrams riffing on the original’s central theme â€“ the intellect vs. the heart – in as accomplished a manner as Roddenberry. Because of it, the audience engages with the main characters and is rewarded with those shivers of dÃ©jÃ vu squared previously mentioned.
I can hardly wait for the sequel where Kirk learns â€¦toâ€¦speakâ€¦with that disâ€¦tinctiveâ€¦style. It happens in the Enterprise lounge. Kirk is eavesdropping on a midshipman who has 3 female colleagues listening attentively. The midshipman speaks with words joined in a way that was never meant to be. In the next scene, Kirk is in the Captain’s Chair, explaining to Spock â€“ with his new buckboard syntax â€“ why instinct rules. As Kirk conveys the inevitable â€œgo with the flowâ€ conclusion, Spock just gives him that stare. It says, â€œI know why a star goes supernova but I just can’t figure this dude outâ€.
That moment (and others like it) will be worth the loaning of our treasured Star Trek to J.J. Abrams a few more times. He has threaded the needle by finding a way to leave Kirk and Spock intact in younger shells. I’m not sure the new ones foretell the richness of the originals – the younger generation always seems a little shallow and superficial to the older one. Kirk and Spock may earn their amber or not. But for now, we have a real alternative to the reruns.